THE glass ceiling faced by women in the running of Scottish universities is beginning to fracture, new figures show.

In the past year, five out of six appointments made by institutions to the powerful role of chair of their ruling courts, which oversee the management and administration of universities, have been women.

It comes after Scotland's 18 universities were accused of having "Victorian values" on gender equality last year, with an analysis showing that none of the chairs of university courts was a woman at that time. The figures for 2011/12 compiled by student body NUS Scotland also showed just 25 per cent of members of courts were female.

Since then, female chairs have been appointed at Glasgow School of Art and the University of Edinburgh, as well as at Glasgow Caledonian, Heriot-Watt and Robert Gordon universities.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, said the appointment of five female chairs in the past year was a boost to the sector.

He said: "We're delighted that universities have seen an increase in strong, female candidates coming forward.

"This is most evident in the role of chair, where in five of the last six appointments the best candidate was a woman, but it is also the case among the co-opted members of court.

"The increased interest from female candidates is something universities are very keen to encourage and our goal is to encourage greater

diversity in gender, age and ethnicity among our governors."

Hazel Brooke, the former head of the Scottish Cot Death Trust, was appointed last week at Glasgow Caledonian University. The other female chairs of court are Muriel Gray, for Glasgow School of Art; Jennifer Craw, at Robert Gordon University; Frances Cairncross at Heriot-Watt University and Dr Anne Richardsn, who is deputy convener of Edinburgh University and performs duties of chair alongside elected rector.

The increase in representation of women was also welcomed by Mary Senior, Scotland official for the UCU union, which represents university academics and support staff.

However, she urged the Scottish Government to legislate to ensure the progress made was enshrined in law. She said: "It's good news that more women are being appointed chairs of university courts at last, but there is still much further to go.

"If the threat of legislation in the background is forcing universities to improve their record on representation, then imagine how good they could be if the Scottish Government actually legislated."

Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland women's officer, also called for wider progress.

She said: "It's encouraging to see more women being appointed as chairs of governing bodies because for too long institutions have failed to reflect the populations they serve.

"However, it would be wrong to think progress starts and ends at the chairs of governing bodies.

"While it's encouraging that positive change is happening at the very highest levels of our governing bodies, the fact remains that women are still underrepresented at all levels of decision making, including the general membership of our boards."

The issue of gender in university management came to the fore in 2011 as part of a review of governance chaired by Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, principal of Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen.

The review recommended that each governing body should be required to ensure at least 40 per cent of membership was female.

This was eventually rejected, along with calls for the Government to legislate to force universities to improve the gender balance on governing bodies.

Instead, the emphasis was placed on institutions putting their own house in order through a new code of conduct.

Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, said: "We very much welcome the positive progress that has been made by Scottish universities in addressing the matter of female representation within their management structures.

"The Scottish Government endorses gender equality more widely, including in Scottish boardrooms and public bodies, and has been leading calls for increased representation across the country."